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Jerome Washington and the Magic Cat Clan

Third Place winner of the "Black Cats are Good Luck" contest

By Susan M. Breall

Lorenzo draped the moonlight around his black fur like a cape. The light reflected brightly off his shoulders as he ambled across the busy highway. He jumped majestically onto the ledge of a long-neglected fence, arched his back, then stretched out his forepaws. After all these years he was still king of the alleyways, protector of his clan, a victorious huntsman. Lorenzo knew he would continue to live up to the true meaning of his name, triumph of laurels, for many more years. No other beast would ever match his power or his nobility.

Lorenzo was on a mission that night to find his brother, a gray gib who had been wounded in a fight with a racoon near the basketball courts at Huntington Park. He was unaware of the fact that the groundskeeper, while tending to the gardens, had found his brother earlier that day, scooped him up with a shovel, and deposited his seemingly lifeless body into the very bottom of a large municipal trash bin. The bin was too smooth and too deep for any animal to climb out of. Lorenzo was also unaware of the fact that eleven-year-old Jerome Washington had come to the park about thirty minutes later and discovered the cat in the trash bin while shooting hoops by himself at the basketball court. Jerome had heard sound and movement in the bin. He heard the cries of the animal thrashing about, walked over, bent his entire lanky body inside the bin, and pulled the cat out of the trash.

The cat allowed Jerome to brush the dirt and debris off his fur. Jerome immediately noticed puncture wounds about his gray body that needed attention. He knew that Aunt Adelia kept all sorts of remedies in a medicine cabinet back home in the kitchen, so he decided to bring the cat home for treatment. When his aunt was not busy working at the library shelving books or helping customers in the check-out line at the Grab and Go, neighbors would come to her house to consult her on various cures and methods of healing. Some thought that there was magic in her elixirs. He wrapped his white sweatshirt around the cat’s lean body and carried him home in his arms.

Jerome had lived with this elderly aunt ever since his mother died four years ago. Her old bungalow was only a few blocks away from the park. When he got home, he left the cat wrapped in the sweatshirt on top of the kitchen table. He was amazed that the cat did not try to run. Then he got up on a small step stool and reached for Aunt Adelia’s Cure-All solutions, which were located on the topmost shelf of the cabinet. Once he got down, he unwrapped the cat, and gently cleaned each puncture wound with the solutions he retrieved, just as Aunt Adelia had taught him to do. He used a small syringe to flush out dirt from every wound. Lorenzo hunted around the entire perimeter of Huntington Park, searching for his brother. The moonlight he had draped about his body sent off white beams of light, directing him to the large trash bin. He sniffed the scent of his brother, and soon realized his brother was no longer present.

Until he found the cat, Jerome had felt the anguish of a summer much too hot and much too long for enjoyment. There were days when he had no one to play basketball with and not a soul to talk to. The past few summers he often spent reading comic books or giant tomes about wizards on Aunt Adelia’s front porch until his best friend, Marble, would come by in the afternoon to play basketball and ride bikes. That summer Marble had gone off fishing up north with his grandparents, and Jerome was left on his own to ride his bike on his own or play basketball while Aunt Adelia worked. He wished he had an older brother who could teach him how to skateboard. He wished he had a friend to go to the movies with, where the indoor theater was cool and there was actual air conditioning. Some kids from his class went on long road trips with their families during the summer, other kids went to camp, but he was stuck at home all alone.

Lorenzo left the park that night and slowly, painstakingly followed the scent of his brother. He constantly worried about his brother, who often got into trouble with the racoons. He did not know that his brother felt instantly content living in Aunt Adelia’s house with Jerome. He did not know that Jerome had given his brother the name Ash, because of the ash gray color of his short hair. Ash’s true name, the name by which Lorenzo had always known him, was Galivant.

Aunt Adelia told Jerome that he could keep Ash in the house as long as he cleaned the cat’s wounds every day, bought cat food and litter with his own allowance, and made sure the cat had enough fresh water to drink every night. Aunt Adelia knew that Jerome was lonely and missed his friend Marble. She was grateful that he found this animal to care for. She was also glad that he had remembered certain lessons she taught him about remedies and the healing cures.

Jerome patiently cleaned Ash’s wounds each night with Aunt Adelia’s solutions. During the day Ash sat on his lap as he read his books on the cedar porch. As Ash got stronger Jerome would let him leave the porch and explore Aunt Adelia’s cottage garden where she grew herbs for her remedies, but he would not let Ash leave his sight.

Eventually Lorenzo located his brother living with Jerome in Aunt Adelia’s bungalow. Lorenzo and his clan knew all about Aunt Adelia, the old woman who lived on top of the porch in the bungalow, the women who grew healing herbs in the cottage garden. They knew of the magic that surrounded her and her garden. Lorenzo studied the boy intently. He watched through the open window as the boy tended to Ash every evening. Lorenzo also recognized the magic that surrounded the boy.

Jerome tended to Ash’s wounds during the entire month of August. Night after night he put healing solutions on the wounds, and every day he would follow Ash around the bungalow or into the garden for hours until they both ended up back on the thread bare porch recliner while Jerome read his books, and Ash took his naps. As Jerome watched over Ash, Lorenzo remained hidden under the porch, watching over his brother. Lorenzo was moved by the extraordinary care the human boy took of his brother. For weeks he chose to remain hidden, watching over each of them, until late one night when the racoons came calling Lorenzo finally made himself known. It was a piercing screech, a true caterwaul coming from somewhere deep inside the garden, which brought Lorenzo to Jerome’s attention. He woke up and looked out the window. He saw bright beams of moonlight surrounding a majestic, fearless cat as it chased after a huge, grizzled white and black racoon that was cornered at the edge of the garden. Jerome somehow knew that this was the very racoon that had attacked Ash. He also knew that the majestic, moon-lit cat he saw had a mysterious connection to Ash . He watched as the racoon tried to climb the fence and get away. He saw through intense moonlight that shined throughout the entire garden that Lorenzo had the racoons tail in his mouth and would not let go.

Both animals continued to wail at each other and cry out with fierce warlike screams, until Lorenzo finally let go of the racoon’s tail. This act of mercy allowed the racoon to retreat coward-like over the fence and completely disappear. Jerome watched with amazement as pieces of the racoon’s tail floated like jetsam in the moonlight. He watched Lorenzo leave a bright trail of moonlight behind him as he walked quietly back to his place of repose under the porch.

The next morning after breakfast Jerome and Ash went outside to find Lorenzo. Lorenzo was sitting quietly, waiting for them both in the garden. Lorenzo called out to his brother, and Ash left Jerome’s side to greet Lorenzo. He nuzzled Lorenzo with his forehead and licked his face. Lorenzo then began to amble away from both Jerome and Ash. Ash followed his brother out of the garden.

Jerome followed quickly behind as both cats ran down the street. Jerome was not sure where the animals were headed, but he was certain he had to follow. Jerome followed both cats across the road and down a long alleyway in between two houses. When Lorenzo and Ash leaped the old broken-down fence behind the playground, Jerome jumped over the fence after them. When both cats stopped to nibble on some fried fish placed on top of a trash bag outside Pearls Fish Market, Jerome stopped and waited until they finished their snack. Lorenzo and Ash then ran quickly past the school yard and Jerome ran after them until all three ended up in a vacant lot across from the high school.

In the lot, Jerome saw twenty cats of assorted colors sunbathing on warm asphalt. Some were black, some yellow, others with orange and white stripes or gray fur. When they saw Lorenzo approaching, they all got up and stood at attention. Lorenzo instructed them to form a line behind Jerome. Jerome looked back and saw all of the cats following him as he continued to follow Ash and Lorenzo to the far end of the lot where an abandoned, rusted out old car was parked. A long fishbone necklace was spread on the hood of the car along with a metal crown cut with triangular points from a jumbo tuna can. Lorenzo looked at Jerome with his bright eyes and silently spoke to him, telling him to place the fish bone necklace around his neck and to wear the crown. That day the cat clan was honoring the boy who saved Galivant’ s life.

Jerome donned the fishbone necklace and crown, then pushed himself onto the hood of the car. One by one each cat jumped up onto the hood and nuzzled Jerome with their whiskers. When they finished acknowledging the crowned boy, they each jumped down, purred, and paraded around the vehicle. This took over an hour. The cats paraded five times around Jerome as he continued to sit on the hood. Eventually he decided that it was time for him to leave. He slid down, took off the crown and the fishbone necklace, then placed them both back on the hood of the car. He was very hungry. He picked up Ash in his arms, bid farewell to Lorenzo and the rest of the cat clan in the vacant lot, and began the long walk home where lunch was waiting.

Susan M. Breall is the 2022 winner of the Gateway Review flash fiction contest. Her short stories appear in numerous anthologies including Running Wild Press, The Raw Art Review, Kairos Literary Magazine, Paragon Press’ Martian Chronicles, Impermanent Facts, and Aba Terra press.

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